SCOTUS Chief Roberts
Blasts Dogma Divide
In Two Landmark Decisions Handed Down This Week, The Chief Justice Surprisingly Provides A Lesson In Public Service For The Age Of Rhetoric
Cariacature of Chief Justice John Roberts by DonkeyHotey. Original photo by Steve Petteway. Image used under the terms of a Creative Commons license.
By John Monahan
Modern Times Magazine
June 29, 2012 — Although the annals of history are always hard to predict, it is quite likely that this past week will be remembered as the first landmark moments in the post-millennial era of the Supreme Court.
First came the ruling on SB 1070 that turned the court further away from the parasitic state’s rights movement and cemented Congress’ hegemony over the broad scope of immigration policy and enforcement. What might have been the most surprising element in the drama, however, was that Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the majority, eliminating a deadlocked ruling since Justice Elena Kagan recused herself. Kagan had served as President Obama’s Solicitor General before being appointed to the highest court in the land in the fall of 2010.
In the SB 1070 ruling, Chief Justice John Roberts joined justices Sonia Sotomayor, Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Stephen Breyer. Sotomayor was appointed by Obama, and Ginsburg and Breyer were appointed by President Clinton. Kennedy was appointed by Reagan and is now considered a “moderate.” But Roberts was appointed by President Bush II and had presided over decisions such as Citizens United which has caused the current campaign-spending spree in national politics by allowing unfiltered and regulated spending by corporations. Many felt Citizens United was a political decision and that it served to further polarize the court into dogmatic groups, although Roberts justified overturning Congressional laws based on first amendment, free-speech grounds.
So the fact that Roberts decided against presiding over a court that would reverse centuries of judicial rulings on state’s rights and deliver a “win” for the base of the republican base was interesting all by itself.
But when he crossed the dogmatic borderline once again by upholding the federal government’s right to mandate health insurance, the Chief Justice surprised everyone. Well, at least those that understand the government in Washington, D.C. is more important than the tales of Starfleet.
Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy — Republican nominees all — could not lure Chief Justice Roberts to their dissenting opinion.
Instead, Chief Justice John Roberts joined justices Sonia Sotomayor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Kagan — democratic nominees, all — in affirming the act except for a few insignificant legal technicalities.
In a lesson that should serve to pull the conservative movement from the precipice of dysfunctional dogma, he upheld the Constitution despite political pressure and the will of the base that got him his job.
He looked at the Constitution and reviewed the the centuries of judicial precedent and let the political chips fall where they may.
“In this case we must again determine whether the Constitution grants Congress powers it now asserts, but which many States and individuals believe it does not possess. Resolving this controversy requires us to examine both the limits of the Government’s power, and our own limited role in policing those boundaries,” Roberts, writing for the majority. “Members of this Court are vested with the authority to interpret the law; we possess neither the expertise nor the prerogative to make policy judgments. Those decisions are entrusted to our Nation’s elected leaders, who can be thrown out of office if the people disagree with them. It is not our job to protect the people from the consequences of their political choices.”
Sure, Roberts used many legal precedents to back up his decision but he was undoubtedly also aware that what he was doing was controversial and he simply didn’t care. He relied on the facts and the lessons of leaders long buried.
Some conservatives — including Pat Robertson on the 700 Club — suggested Roberts upheld the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) to frame the debate in the election. Robertson even called it a “Machiavellian” move.
But that is just right wingers trying to salvage some pride.
Chief Justice Roberts exhibited the finest dedication to American ideals in these two decisions.
Let’s only hope his actions can inspire more conservatives to look past the dogma and embrace the thing that has made this country great: doing what is right in spite of the consequences or pressure.
Leaders who can do that become American Heroes.
There are many future decisions that will define how history views him, but Chief Justice John Roberts has laid the first stones on that path.
Who knew he had it in him?
John Monahan is a freelance writer living in Connecticut.
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